When people say Venice is like nothing you’ve ever seen before they are absolutely correct. Venice is literally all on water. The water was dirtier than I expected but it kind of makes sense. If I could only see how polluted the air is from all the automobiles it would probably look the same as the water.
I traveled with one other girl on my program, Morgan. We stayed on the island of Lido. I’m glad we stayed outside of Venice because we got a taste of what real life is like up north. It is kind of cool to say I stayed on an island, too. When I was little (5-6 years old) I thought all islands were deserted. I have cousins that live on an island near New Zealand and I was always confused how you could raise a family and live on an island. Clearly you can. There are pharmacies. There are grocery stores. There are clothing stores. There are normal streets that cars drive down.
You don’t have a Michigan Avenue but there’s everything you need to survive. It was very quaint. I could definitely see how you could raise a family here.
Yes, Venice is all on waters and you’re only on a sidewalk a short time before crossing another bridge, but where we stayed was a normal town. There were bridges every so often however it reminded me a lot of southern California near my grandpa’s house in Palm Springs. Our bed and breakfast was right on the water. The only thing separating us was a street and bike path that stretched the whole island. Think of the path on lakeshore drive with less people and that is what it looked like. People actually worked out there! Until now I was under the impression no one in Italy exercised. In Rome, heads turn when I go on runs. People were bike riding and running in Lido!
So here’s a little itinerary of my trip. I was there for two full days, which was plenty of time for me.
Day 1: Woke up at 4 for a 7 AM flight. It took 1.5 hours once at Marco Polo airport to get to our place. We took a boat down the Grand Canal to Lido. Traveling took a while because of the no wake zone, and because the stops were close to each other. It was a good introduction to the city. There weren’t stoplights. No cross walks. Just boats!
After settling into our place we grabbed lunch in St. Marcs and watched the royal wedding. It was by chance that the place we chose had a TV. We saw the mass part in Westminster Abbey. Kate looked absolutely stunning. And her sister looked like a million bucks. I loved the camera shots of Harry while Kate was walking down the aisle and William couldn’t turn around. People were popping champagne in the café and eating pastries while watching the wedding.
Afterwards, we walked around and shopped. Before dinner we took a gondola ride. The driver let me row with him! We saw a lot of old buildings on our 30-minute ride. The city hall, post office, and old prison are all 600+ years old. Our gondola driver’s family has lived in Venice for 400 years! It’s amazing how far back he could trace it. You could tell he was proud to tell us. I’m glad I can finally say I went on a gondola ride. I wish it was longer but I definitely got the jist of it.
Day 2: We headed to the island of Murano, home to glass making. The shops had beautiful items. From chandeliers, to jewelry, frames, cups & dishes we saw it all. We wanted to see a glass blowing demonstration but they weren’t doing them that day. We saw their stations though. There wasn’t much to do there besides shop. All the jewelry looked the same after a while. I got some watches and a Pandora necklace.
After poking around Murano we took a boat down the Grand Canal for a little tour. We ended up walking back though. We didn’t know you could walk. We thought you could only take the boat. It wasn’t a direct route back. We crossed dozens of bridges and went down many side streets. Fortunately there were signs guiding us in the right direction. I really enjoyed this walk. We stopped for cappuccinos and absorbed everything around us. The streets were soooooooo narrow! Literally less than an arms length!!
For dinner we went to Trattoria alla Madonna. Read my food blog for the experience: click
On our boat home after dinner I got lost in deep thoughts while looking at the water. The lifestyle in Venice seemed incredibly relaxing. So stress free. Surrounding us were boats and water. There was no real hurry. I then realized I would get annoyed constantly relying on public transportation like the one I was on to get me places. I’d be stuck on their schedule. I also noticed how there weren’t many boats out. There must be some kind of regulation or special permit allowing private boats to ride on the canal. I also noticed the overwhelming amount of Italian flags that hung from buildings. I thought the north didn’t want to combine with the south during the whole unification ordeal yet there seemed to be so much pride. Maroon flags also hung with a gold lion symbolizing St Mark. Finally, I only saw one gypsy the whole time I was in Venice. I concluded that it’s too expensive for them to get to the island.
Overall, I really enjoyed my stay in Venice. I can see how some people love it and some people don’t. You definitely have to be patient while traveling on the boats but it’s honestly an incredible city. So unique. Full of so much history. And unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I saw first hand how it’s possible Venice is sinking. The water level was very high on our last night flooding parts of the main square.
The last four days of my family’s trip visiting me we went to the Amalfi Coast. Our hotel was in Sorrento but we stopped in the towns of Amalfi, Positano and took a ferry to the Isle of Capri.
I met my parents after class on a Friday. It was just my luck that public transportation went on strike. They’ve done it once every month. It’s so dumb. They announce the day the strike will be ahead of time and how long it’ll last. Fortunately I was able to get out of Rome because I was taking a high-speed train to Naples. However, to get from Naples to Sorrento I would have taken a public train (much like the metro I use to go into the city at home) however I couldn’t.
Naples isn’t safe at night. Apparently 2/3 of the people living in Naples are unemployed. So, my dad had the hotel send a driver to get me at the station. It worked out rather nicely. I stepped off the train and a guy with my name on a dry erase board stood waiting for me. I felt important. The driver confirmed it wasn’t safe in Naples past 10 PM.
To be honest I wasn’t excited to be back in Naples. I went earlier in the semester to Pompeii with my roommates and we stayed in Naples. I didn’t like it at all. However, I had a different appreciation for it this time. I think it was because I wasn’t riding dirty public transportation and had a driver explain the city to me. The drive to Sorrento was about an hour because of traffic. The driver was real talkative, which made the ride go faster. He pointed out the window to significant churches and areas of town. I didn’t realize how big Naples was. About 100,000 people live there. I realize now that I was quick to judge the whole city after only seeing a tiny sector of it. Still, it’s not my favorite place I’ve been to but it was better the second time around.
My driver was born and raised in Sorrento. Because he was so talkative I asked him a lot of questions. He wants to visit the United States someday, specifically New York and Miami. His brother owns a restaurant in Miami. A random question I asked him was how many people drive stick shift in Italy. He laughed and said about 90%. That’s the exact opposite at home. About 10% drive stick shift. I also asked him what his favorite meals were in Sorrento. He prefers simple Margarita pizza and gnocchi alla Sorrento. He said those are the two famous dishes. I also asked him what his favorite town was. He replied, Positano. I got excited because that’s where my family and I were going the next day.
My dad was on his “A” game when he set up a private driver to take us along the Sorrento and Amalfi coast for 8 hours. Words can’t describe how beautiful the drive was. My mouth was dropped the whole day. Again, we had a friendly driver. He drives people around every day for a living. He gave us information about the towns, flowers, lemons, and olive trees. He also showed us private beaches and fishermen ports. The best stop was Positano. I felt like I was in a movie. The town itself was breathtaking. I don’t even know how to describe what I saw. Tiny steps full of flowers weaved down to the beach.
I got a restaurant recommendation from my friend Timmy. It was on top of a mountain overlooking Positano and Capri. It was a family owned restaurant. The mom was in the kitchen. Her daughter and sons served us. They were jolly and friendly. We got great service. Check out my food blog to read about my experience: click
The next day we went to Capri. We took a ferry there. It reminded me of the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. It was a quick trip over. We got off one boat and hopped on two more. The first boat took us all over the isle of Capri. We stopped at the blue grotto first. Fortunately it was open that day. It was closed the day before due to the tide and water height. From there we had to get into a small canoe looking boat and lay on our backs. The cave had a short clearance to get in. Even laying I thought my head was going to be clipped. This experience was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done with family. I looked at pictures of the blue grotto before going and didn’t expect the water to be so blue. I thought there was definitely some photo shopping involved. It was pitch black inside when you looked up. And it was bright blue when you looked down at the water. The cave was much smaller than I anticipated. We made two laps and that was it. But the rower was singing Italian songs and I kept telling myself how lucky I was to be doing this with my family. After the blue grotto we got back in the other boat and went around the island more. We saw a green grotto, too.
For history about the blue grotto: click here
Going to the Amalfi coast with my family was one of my favorite vacations. Watching the sunset with them along the coast, seeing the blue grotto, and having a tremendous meal on top of a mountain was very special. I hope they had a good time because I really enjoyed their company. It was their first trip to Italy. It was my parents second time out of the country, my brother’s first. Even though my brother got exhausted easily I could tell that they were soaking in everything they saw. My dad was always the first up in the morning out people watching and exploring. My mom loves the water and boats so she was in paradise along the coast. And, my brother is very into the arts So he loved the artists and street performers. He even sketched some pictures of the coast.
In California there is a strong rivalry between the north and the south. Many people in California wish that the state could be divided in two (not because of the size but because of the aesthetic look and overall culture). I’ve traveled around northern and southern California many times and have physically seen and experienced the difference between the two. The north is drier and hillier than the south. The south has a more tropic-feel with green grass perfectly manicured and flowers sprawled across every bit of soil. The northern lifestyle is more relaxed and “earthy” while the southern lifestyle is more fast-paced, celebrity-populated, and industrial. The north is home base for Google, Facebook, and Stanford University. The south has pollution in L.A. followed by glamour: famous resorts, golf courses, vineyards, and celebrities throughout the rest of the region.
The observations I had between northern and southern California are similar to observations I have made traveling between northern and southern Italy. I’ve learned through my history class about the unification of Italy and the impact it has had on the north and south. I’ve learned that the south had a harder time with the unification because of the lack of resources and industrialization. In the north you had an education system and bank system. Financially the south struggled after the unification and today, 150 years after the unification, you can still see the differences and hear about some people’s dissatisfaction.
I decided to head south to Naples and visit Pompeii. Until this point I only ventured northbound, or stayed in Rome. When I arrived to Naples by train I thought I was entering a different country, aesthetically speaking. I saw high-rises for the first time and immediately thought to myself, “Ok, good. There has been some improvements and production in labor and industrialization since the unification.” However, as soon as I got off the train and headed to my hostel I quickly realized Naples is still poor and technologically behind than Rome—and, especially Florence. The hotel my family stayed at in Florence had iPads in the lobby and computers in my room. I didn’t dare bring my iPod with me because of the high crime rate and low unemployment rate in Naples. Something like 2/3 of Naples is unemployed! I noticed that there were a lot of homeless people, little kids not fully clothed, gang signs painted all over the streets, dirty streets, stray dogs, and crumbling roads. Basically, I wanted out. As bad as this sounds, I felt like I was going to be the next victim of a drive-by shooting. I felt dirty the whole time I was there. I felt like I always had to check my back. And, I was constantly in a state of anxiety. I walked quickly there and made sure to not wear any jewelry or bring nice personal belongings.
I saw three homeless people each time I walked down a street. What I saw was pretty graphic, too. Missing limbs disturbed me the most. Street vendors lined the streets with gadgets and nonsense I could have found at an estate sale. For the first time since coming overseas I felt like I was in a foreign country. When I was in Florence it was populated with tourists, most of who could speak English. The streets were clean, famous art galleries and churches attracted tourists, and the overall atmosphere felt more rich and developed. Naples felt very impoverished and dirty. When I look back and think of Naples the colors grey and black come to mind. Words like gloomy and infested also arise. Fog and dust are visuals that instantly appear.
But, before I completely write Naples off I do have to admit a couple of things.
1) The train system was easy to navigate. Getting to Pompeii was a simple and quick task. In fact, watch our sprint to make the train back to Rome. Proof that their transportation system is reliable.
2) The food wasn’t all that bad. After all, pizza was founded there.
See my food blog about Pizzeria da Michele: click
3) The people I encountered were actually helpful and friendly
a) The street vendor selling my friends fake LV warned them about pick-pockets
b) An old man helped us with directions to Pizzeria da Michele. He was probably in his 80s and had a huge grin on his face while giving us directions. His English was poor but his effort was tremendous.
c) The owner of Pizzeria da Michele couldn’t have been more pleasant. He came to our table and took a picture with us and wanted to make sure we were enjoying our pizza. Fun fact: Julia Robert filmed Eat Pray Love here. *Side note: if you own the book flip to page 42. The language school that she attends is the school I go to in Rome!
d) At dinner a man serenaded us with Italian songs for about a half hour.
e) While waiting for our bus to take us partially up Mt Vesuvius we ran into little girls, probably 8 years olds, who gave us yellow flowers and rubbed their faces while looking as us saying, “bella, bella” I felt like Angelina Jolie. Their eyes twinkled and grinned from ear to ear. Everyone on the streets looked at us. It seemed as though they hadn’t seen Americans before. Granted we were traveling with brunettes, blondes, and a red head— We had every American hair color represented. The town was very small and seemed very poor. People congrecated in a small park and on church stairs to interact and socialize. The food there was very inexpensive and no one spoke English yet you felt safe and admired.
4) Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius was worth the trek. I felt safe in Pompeii and a homeless dog (we named him Alex) followed us around for the day. There is a dog adoption agency in Pompeii. I think Alex was trying to get on our good side so we would adopt him.
Climbing Mt Vesuvius and roaming the ancient streets of Pompeii was very surreal. I didn’t feel like I was in Italy when I was standing on top of the mountain looking into the horizon.